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ITEC Pre-Seed Fund Makes Award to American BioOptics

March 5, 2007 | by Megan Fellman

The Illinois Technology Enterprise Center at Northwestern University (ITEC-Evanston) has invested $35,000 in American BioOptics, a privately held medical diagnostic company in Chicago.

American BioOptics is commercializing a suite of innovative optical technologies and devices developed at Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare (ENH) for cancer screening and risk assessment. This is the ninth investment ITEC has made from its pre-seed fund for technology startup companies.

Vadim Backman, a co-founder of the company and professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, saw the potential for optical technologies developed in his laboratory to improve the way cancer is detected and diagnosed and to save lives through widespread screening. Clinical applications of several of his technologies have been developed in collaboration with physicians at Evanston Hospital.

”We expect that the technology behind American BioOptics will make a tremendous impact on human health,” said Backman. “ITEC has been extremely valuable in helping us get off the ground.” ITEC-Evanston worked directly with Backman to form the new company and to find a chief executive officer.

The first product under development is a colon cancer screening device that uses a novel optical backscattering technology developed by Backman and colleagues at Northwestern to detect in vivo the earliest nanoscale changes in cellular makeup of otherwise normal tissue. The methodology does not involve colonoscopy and colon preparation.

“We believe that the simple fiber optic probe will be a less intrusive and highly accurate means of screening for colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans,” said Hemant Roy, M.D., a gastroenterologist with ENH who is leading a clinical team that is testing the effectiveness of the device. Roy, who is also associate professor of medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, is a co-founder of American BioOptics.

Data collected from more than 500 patients in clinical trials at Evanston Hospital suggest the screening device is far more informative than today's standard techniques such as histology or endoscopy. In these patients, Backman's method identified with 100 percent accuracy each person who had a polyp in the colon. The simple test holds broad promise for low-cost, widespread cancer screening and diagnosis.

The ITEC investment will be used by the company to develop a regulatory and reimbursement roadmap for the device, both of which are crucial in understanding the growth strategy, clinical trials, timeframe and capital required to establish the new technology as a standard in cancer screening.

Backman, his colleagues at Northwestern and his collaborators at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare are inventors of several patent applications claiming Backman's optical technologies and methods of their use. Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare recently granted American BioOptics an exclusive license to commercialize these inventions for applications in human and animal health.

ITEC-Evanston was established in 2000 as a partnership between Northwestern University and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to provide technology commercialization assistance services relevant to the formation, growth and retention of early-stage technology companies in Illinois. Since its inception, ITEC-Evanston has served more than 350 entrepreneurs and early-stage companies and assisted the formation of more than 50 new ventures. ITEC-Evanston clients have received more than $85 million in venture, debt and grant financing.